Ministers face grilling over WE affair and a cow chase: In The News for Aug. 11

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Aug. 11.

What we are watching in Canada ...

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Two federal cabinet ministers and the country's top public servant will be grilled today about how a charity with close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wound up administering a $912-million student grant program.

The House of Commons ethics committee is scheduled to hear from Youth Minister Bardish Chagger, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Ian Shugart, clerk of the Privy Council.

The committee is ostensibly conducting a review of the existing safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest when the federal government is deciding how to spend taxpayers' dollars.

But opposition MPs are sure to focus more pointedly on the government's agreement with WE Charity to administer the grant program, which had been intended to encourage students to engage in summer volunteer work related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chagger was the minister responsible for the program, which has now been abandoned after becoming mired in controversy.

Qualtrough is in charge of the department whose public servants concluded they were not capable of delivering the program and who, according to the government, recommended that WE Charity was the only group capable of delivering it.

Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who also has close family ties to WE Charity, are both under investigation by the federal ethics commissioner. Both have apologized for failing to recuse themselves when cabinet approved the recommended agreement with the charity.

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Also this ...

A new opinion survey suggests Donald Trump's recent decision to slap a tariff on Canadian raw aluminum is garnering poor reviews on both sides of the border.

In a web survey conducted by polling firm Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, 58 per cent of American respondents said they disagreed with the 10 per cent import tax.

In what comes as less of a surprise, 90 per cent of Canadians who took part in the survey objected to the White House's tariff.

The survey was conducted Aug. 7 to 9 among 1,513 Canadians and 1,003 Americans, 18 or older, who were recruited from an online panel.

Since polls created from internet panels are not random samples, the survey cannot be assigned a margin of error.

The polling firm says that using data from the 2016 census, results were weighted according to age, gender, language spoken, region, level of education and presence of children in the household in order to ensure a representative sample of the population.

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ICYMI (in case you missed it) ...

A confrontation between an elderly couple and a cow and her calf required the intervention of the California Highway Patrol in Northern California this weekend.

Authorities said on Facebook that the unidentified couple had fallen to the ground after a cow gave chase to them in the Lynch Canyon Regional Park. They were hoisted into a helicopter to elude the angry bovine.

In a minutes-long video taken by highway patrol mid-air, a cow and calf are seen standing feet away from the couple on the barren trail. As the chopper hovers above the site, the cow is seen rearing its head and bellowing, while the calf stands nearby.

Highway patrol succeeded in moving the cow by sounding the helicopter's alarm, CHP wrote in a Facebook post.

Officials lifted the couple 75 feet (22.8 metres) into the air and transported them to a hospital to treat their injuries. There was no word on what happened to the mother cow or her calf.

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

President Donald Trump was abruptly escorted by a U.S. Secret Service agent out of the White House briefing room as he was beginning a coronavirus briefing Monday afternoon. He returned minutes later, saying there was a "shooting" outside the White House that was "under control."

"There was an actual shooting and somebody's been taken to the hospital," Trump said. The president said the shots were fired by law enforcement, saying he believed the individual who was shot was armed. "It was the suspect who was shot," Trump said.

Trump said he was escorted to the Oval Office by the agent. The White House was placed on lockdown following the incident.

The shooting took place near 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue just blocks from the White House, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly about it. Law enforcement officials were still trying to determine the suspect's motive.

The suspect was transferred to a local hospital, and the District of Columbia fire department said the man suffered serious or possibly critical injuries. Authorities were investigating whether the individual has a history of mental illness.

Trump praised the work of Secret Service personnel for their work in keeping him safe. Asked if he was shaken by the incident, Trump asked reporters: "I don't know. Do I seem rattled?"

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says Canada is "deeply concerned" by a violent crackdown following presidential elections in Belarus.

Dozens of people have been injured and thousands detained in the country since Sunday's vote, with police brutally breaking up mostly young protesters.

The protests came as Belarusian election officials said authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko had won a sixth term in office with 80 per cent of the vote.

Election officials say opposition challenger Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya received 10 per cent of the vote, but she has dismissed the official results as a sham and requested a formal recount.

The police crackdown drew harsh criticism from European capitals and will likely complicate Lukashenko's efforts to mend ties with the West amid tensions with his main ally and sponsor, Russia.

Champagne said the police response "further eroded the democratic legitimacy of the vote," and he called for the results to reflect what Belarusians want for their country.

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Also this...

Lebanon's prime minister stepped down from his job Monday in the wake of the catastrophic explosion in Beirut that has triggered public outrage, saying he has come to the conclusion that corruption in the country is "bigger than the state."

The move risks opening the way to dragged-out negotiations over a new Cabinet amid urgent calls for reform. It follows a weekend of anti-government protests after the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut's port that decimated the facility and caused widespread destruction, killing at least 160 people and injuring about 6,000 others.

In a brief televised speech after three of his ministers resigned, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he and his government were stepping down.

"May God protect Lebanon," he said, repeating the last phrase three times. As he spoke, protesters demonstrated in the streets near parliament for a third straight day.

The moment typified Lebanon's political dilemma. Since October, there have been mass demonstrations demanding the departure of the entire sectarian-based leadership over entrenched corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.

But the ruling oligarchy has held onto power for so long — since the end of the civil war in 1990 — that it is difficult to find a credible political figure untainted by connections to it.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 11, 2020.

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